So you're sitting around the table after dinner, or having drinks at a house party, or maybe even a bar, and you're with friends, and someone says, wouldn't it be fun if we were to play a game? But your brother borrowed your copy of Risk and never gave it back, and your old roommate absconded with Settlers of Catan. Not to worry! There are plenty of highly entertaining games that you can play with your friends that only require a pen, paper (napkins?) and a little bit of ingenuity.
1. Five second animal
I got this clever idea for a game from Daniel Stillman, one of the founders of NYC's The Design Gym and an all-around creative dude. Here's how it works: everyone gets a turn to be the judge. The judge will name an animal (say, an aardvark) and everyone else at the table has five seconds to draw that animal. Then they all show their drawings to the judge, and the judge gets to decide which animal is the 'best'. It's highly subjective, and highly entertaining.
2. Balderdash, poetry smash edition
So I almost suggested Balderdash (or Fictionary, the DIY version of Balderdash), but then I realized you need a dictionary (preferably a big, unabridged one) to play that, and you may not have a giant dictionary at home, and you definitely don't have one at a bar. But then, in the wiki article for Fictionary, I noticed a Balderdash variant that sounds absolutely fascinating: Balderdash, but with poetry. Here's how it works: one player picks out a poem at random (try the Poetry Foundation for this) and reads the first three lines. All the other players have to write a fake fourth line for the poem. All the fake lines will then be read by the player who picked the poem, and everyone else has to pick which one is the real one. You get a point if you guess the correct line, and another point for anyone who votes for your fake poem.
3. Loaded questions
There's a commercial version of this game, but it's also pretty easy to play on your own. Have everyone at the table write down a question (like: "what is your most embarrassing memory from junior high?). Throw all the questions into a hat, and have each player take a turn picking a question. When it's your turn, you read the question that you picked, and everyone else writes down their answer and passes it to the player on your right. That player reads out all the responses, and you guess who wrote what. You can give yourself one point for every one you guess right, or you can just play as a way of getting to know your friends a little bit better. Bonus: for a group you know really well, it can be entertaining to also guess who wrote the question.
4. Telephone pictionary
This is one of those games that never gets old. Here's how it works: tear paper into small, uniformly-sized squares (eighths is good) and then create stacks of paper in an odd number — say, nine. (The higher the number you pick, the longer the game will last, but the funnier the results will be.) Each player starts with a stack of paper, and writes a sentence on the paper, like 'I like to eat cheese in the bathtub.' After everyone is done writing, each player passes their stack to the person on their right, who reads the sentence, moves that piece of paper to the bottom of the stack, and then makes an illustration of the sentence. They then pass to the player on their right, who moves the illustration to the bottom and writes on the top piece of paper a sentence that they think describes the illustration. This can produce pretty hilarious results — and it's always funny to look through the papers afterwards to see the evolution of each sentence.
5. Mark Simpson
Ok, so I stole the idea for this game from the comments on this post (thanks, sistersister!), but it was too good not to share. Here's how it works:
One person suggests a cartoon or cartoon type character like Bart Simpson, Cookie Monster, the hamburgler, etc. Then at the same time everyone draws that character from memory. When everyone's finished you Google it and see if you were at all, in any way close, which no one usually is. In the end no one wins and you have some new awful and hilarious refrigerator art.
Brilliant. Happy gaming!